Airports and swamps are misunderstood.
Yes, airplane travel stresses me out. My brain insists that forgetting to pack a third sports bra or a glue stick will ruin me, despite the existence of laundry machines and shops. I worry about arriving early, security lines, flight times, etc. Then there’s neck cricks, dehydration, and not being able to be upside down for several consecutive hours.
But there’s one shining beacon of air travel: airplane food. Really. When I was a kid – one who secretly longed for forbidden Lunchables – I loved getting a tray with weird compartmentalization and plastic film. Even though the food didn’t taste great, it was exciting to see how much time I could spend investigating each item and savoring its alien microwaved aftertaste. Then I’d squirrel away the jelly packets, salt and pepper, wet naps, and plastic utensils, a habit I maintain to this day.
Now that airplanes don’t serve free meals, I refuse to spend $11 for a cardboardy sandwich that doesn’t even come in compartments. I’m an adult now, which means I get to make my own multi-part meals in boxes, dag-nabbit. And it’s a fun challenge to make it tidy, portable, and substantial enough to be breakfast, lunch, and snack. Here’s what I ate on my flight home today:
- Pink Lady apple slices. This barrel-shaped, sweet-tart variety has crisp, acidic flesh; great with cheese.
- Baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, and bell pepper slices. Crisp, watery vegetables take a long time to eat and help me stay hydrated.
- Hard boiled egg with sriracha. If you cover an egg with at least two inches of water in a pot, heat to boiling, then turn it off and let it sit 10 minutes, it’ll be perfect.
- Lean roast beef, thinly sliced and tenderized overnight in a bath of my roommate’s mother’s renowned tomato relish.
- Whole wheat Triscuit-type crackers (so superior to Wheat Thins)
- Reduced fat cheddar snack stick
- Attempt at a healthful chocolate chip cookie, made with almonds, whole wheat flour, and various fruit purees. Vegan, and pretty tasty at that.
Swamps, I think, are also misunderstood. They’re dark and dangerous – but as Karen Russell will show you in her outstanding novel, Swamplandia!, there’s magic in them too. Read on for the review!
Swamplandia!, Karen Russell
***WARNING: Contains minor spoilers***
Swamplandia! is interesting in that its trajectory starts out at the high point and decays, crumples, right alongside the institution of Swamplandia! in the novel. I suppose I expected some measure of resolution. Instead, it ended with everything irrevocably changed, the legends dethroned and most of the magic gone.
Russell has created a fecund, fetid world that breeds strange creatures. You can practically feel the humidity and smell the swamp. It’s uncomfortable, it’s buried, and it’s crumbling. Each of the characters, too, are magical but very believable. The protagonist, Ava Bigtree, is wonderful. She’s thirteen, she’s childlike but not childish. She’s powerful and determined, but realistically so (although “realism” isn’t exactly a spectrum this book works on). Ava loves Swamplandia!, loves wrestling, loves her alligators and her family and truly feels like someone who has never lived anywhere but this surreal amusement park.
Ava’s father, genius brother Kiwi, and ghost-loving sister Ossie are all equally convincing in their eccentricities. Their convictions in the rules of their universe, the ferocity with which they remain individuals, made me believe that they would somehow be protected from the laws of reality to which others are subjected. The realization that things are otherwise will break your heart and leave you reeling, right along with the Bigtrees.